Mr. Speaker, I will address the issue raised by the hon. member of London—Fanshawe in regard to ending seniors' poverty.
As the hon. Minister of State for seniors, I am pleased to say that we have already taken action to address this serious issue in budget 2011. That is why we will support this motion today.
The hon. member suggests that we increase the guaranteed income supplement. We have increased the guaranteed income supplement in budget 2011, which we tabled earlier this month.
I would also like to correct the member on some other facts.
With the strong mandate the Canadians have given us, we are using the next phase of the economic action plan to not only enhance the GIS but also the new horizons for seniors program.
We are also working for seniors to ensure the strength of the retirement income system by introducing a new family caregiver tax credit. In fact, when asked about these measures, CARP's vice-president of advocacy said that its members were, "happy" and "thrilled that these issues--are being mentioned" in the budget.
I would like to go back and discuss the issue, which, in my opinion, is the most important news for seniors in budget 2011, the boost to the guaranteed income supplement. This increase will directly help those seniors who rely exclusively or almost exclusively on federal benefits. This includes many senior women and singles with inadequate incomes.
Budget 2011 measures will provide a new annual top-up benefit of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. This will improve the financial security of more than 680,000 seniors across Canada. It will help the most vulnerable seniors. This is a significant investment into our seniors population despite the government's tight fiscal situation that will see us balance our budget by fiscal year 2014-15.
However, do not take my word for it. Let us hear what some key stakeholders have to say about our 2011 budget commitments following the initial tabling of the budget.
The C.D. Howe Institute said:
...the new Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) top-up benefit for low-income seniors, would bring a meaningful increase in benefits too low-income seniors.
Both the Service Employees International Union and the Canadian Labour Congress stated in press releases that the guaranteed income supplement increase "is a win for every senior living in poverty in Canada".
We are providing the largest GIS increase in a quarter century to the lowest income seniors who need it most. This makes sense.
However, the GIS increase is only one of the many ways our government is helping seniors preserve their standards of living.
Canada's seniors have worked hard to build a better country and our government believes they deserve a secure and dignified retirement.
Furthermore, Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than people in past generations. Therefore, helping Canadians prepare for and achieve financial security in their later years is a priority of our government.
It goes back to the very beginning of our mandate when we created the portfolio of minister for seniors so that older people could have a stronger voice at the cabinet table.
Since 2007, our government has made life better for Canadian seniors through a number of programs and initiatives. In fact, it was our government who introduced pension income splitting and doubled the pension income credit. We have lowered taxes and removed 85,000 seniors from the tax rolls completely. We also raised the GIS exemption, putting more money in the pockets of 1.6 million more seniors.
What did the opposition do? It voted against all of those measures. If the opposition truly intends to help seniors, it would have voted for our budget.
Speaking of the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, we will do even more.
As minister for seniors, I am happy to say that budget 2011 has good news for older Canadians. In budget 2011, we introduced new measures to improve the financial security of Canada's seniors, to expand their opportunities and to enhance their quality of life.
I have already mentioned that Canadians are living longer than people in past generations and they are naturally concerned about financial security after they retire.
It is important to point out that we have a strong public pension system. This year, Canadian's will receive $70 billion in benefits through the Canada pension plan, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, or what we call GIS. Over the years, GIS has been a major factor in reducing poverty among Canadian seniors but it is not the only factor and it is not the only area where we are making things better.
Our government also wants to improve federally regulated private pension plans. We are now working with the provinces to introduce new private pension options, such as the pooled registered pension plan. These plans would benefit millions of Canadians who have not had access to this kind of coverage before, such as employees of small and medium-sized businesses and self-employed workers.
We are helping seniors hang on to more of their hard-earned money. As a result of measures introduced by this government, seniors and pensioners will receive about $2.3 billion in targeted tax relief in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
There are many seniors who are not quite ready to draw a pension. The National Seniors Council has found that many seniors are staying on the job where they continue to share their wealth of knowledge and experience. For those seniors who want to keep working, we are changing the rules to eliminate the mandatory retirement age for most federally regulated employees.
We are also extending the targeted initiative for older workers for another two years. This initiative helps older workers who have been laid off from their jobs to retrain for new careers.
All of those measures are helping seniors financially. They are all anti-poverty measures. In fact, the incidence of poverty among seniors in Canada has dropped from a rate of 21% in 1980 to less than 6% in 2008. That is one of the lowest rates in the world.
That is not all. The next phase of Canada's economic action plan builds on commitments to seniors made in previous budgets. These commitments include $13 million over three years in budget 2008 to help combat elder abuse, of which the most prevalent form is financial abuse. By helping seniors protect themselves from financial abuse, we are protecting their incomes and savings, and that is an anti-poverty measure.
In a previous budget, we also committed $400 million over two years for the construction of new housing units for low income seniors, and that is an anti-poverty measure because it allows older people to find decent homes at a rent they can afford.
We are also introducing general measures to help Canadian families financially that will also benefit seniors.
Caring for an infirm dependent relative can be really expensive. That is why we are introducing a new family caregiver tax credit. In addition, we are removing the limit on the amount of eligible expenses that caregivers can claim under the medical expense tax credit in regard to their financially dependent relatives. For the first time, the definition of caregiver has been expanded to include spouses and common-law partners. Many seniors are acting as caregivers and these measures will relieve some of their burden.
Seniors are also major beneficiaries of the broad-based tax relief measures that our government has introduced and other financial measures, such as the tax free savings account.
Again I would like to point out to members of the House that these measures are directly or indirectly anti-poverty measures.
The interests of older Canadians are becoming more important as seniors make up an increasingly larger proportion of our population.
Financial security is obviously important to seniors, as it is to all Canadians. It is essential to meeting the challenges and enjoying the opportunities that come with getting older. Our government will continue to do its part to ensure that security.